The opening night of the season on Thursday, a full slate of games on Sunday, and Monday Night Football on ESPN and ABC all attracted audiences comparable to those of the 2022 season. On average, 18.7 million people tuned in during the seven broadcast windows from Thursday to Monday across all platforms, an increase of 1% from the same period last year. Action at online sportsbooks had also seen a big boost as well.
The first time four broadcasts have done so on the opening weekend since 2015 was with NBC’s Thursday kickoff game (24.75 million viewers), CBS’ late afternoon Sunday matchup (21.35 million), NBC’s Sunday Night Football (20.18 million), and Monday Night Football on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2 (22.64 million). However, the viewership for both of Fox’s Sunday games as well as the CBS 1 p.m. ET kickoff was lower than it was during week one of last year.
The opening game saw a significant increase in TV viewers year over year, up 24% from the previous game. According to Nielsen and first-party data from NBC Sports, the audience for Thursday’s broadcast was 27.5 million across all platforms, a nearly 24 percent increase from the previous year.
In addition to three of the network’s most recent four Super Bowl telecasts, the streaming audience for an NBC NFL game was the second-largest ever (trailing only Super Bowl LVI in 2022).
The Philadelphia Eagles’ 25-20 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday at midday on CBS attracted the largest week one audience for the network since 2015. In comparison to the same window last season, it was up 28%.
Fox’s doubleheader of two uncompetitive games, 49ers-Steelers for 75% of the country in the early window and Packers-Bears for 84 percent of the country in the late afternoon, probably contributed to the lower ratings than the opening weekend of last year. 10.19 million viewers watched the early game on average, and 16.27 million watched the late game. 12.82 million people watched CBS’ early game.
20.18 million people watched the Dallas Cowboys defeat the New York Giants 40-0 on Sunday Night Football on NBC. According to NBC Sports, streaming brought in 1.8 million more viewers. The network had its best two-game opening weekend average in eight years (24.9 million across all platforms).
Since ESPN began airing Monday Night Football in 2006, the show has attracted its largest audience. The 22.64 million viewers (11.66 million on ABC, 9.46 million on ESPN, and 1.52 million on ESPN2’s Manningcast) are an increase of 14% over the premiere from last year (which was also broadcast on all three outlets) and surpass the previous ESPN MNF high of 21.8 million viewers (excluding out-of-home) from 2009.
The late games also benefited CBS and Fox during primetime. A rerun of 60 Minutes on CBS attracted 8.36 million viewers, significantly more than its summer average. Big Brother also outperformed its typical Sunday audience with 3.74 million viewers and a 0.8 rating among adults 18-49. The Masked Singer on Fox had 3.98 million viewers and a 0.9 rating in adults 18-49, both of which were higher than the previous season’s same-day averages.
The broadcast networks, who are entering the 2023–24 season without the majority of their scripted series due to ongoing strikes by writers and actors seeking better pay and residuals, streaming data transparency, and protections against artificial intelligence (among other issues) from the networks’ parent companies, are happy to hear about the large audiences. It’s unclear whether viewers will tune in to the unscripted shows and acquisitions that broadcasters have pieced together for their schedules in the coming weeks.
However, the NFL is the safest wager available in the current TV market, and the league succeeded in week one.